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Improbable Story: "I Have Never Experienced Sex Discrimination"

A large room, maybe a hotel ballroom, is filled with women dressed in their business best, most of them young.  The tables are being cleared of a standard-issue lunch.  Many in the crowd are still trying to “network” across the flower arrangements, filling the conversational gaps, but making everyone silently beg for the “inspirational” program to begin so that the painful self-promotion can cease, even if only for a few minutes.


After a breathless introduction from the hosting group’s leader, an admired woman from a male-dominated industry opens her speech with the most ridiculous six words ever spoken by a female:  “I have never experienced sex discrimination.” 

With collective dismay, attendees brace for the inevitable narrative: the speaker asserts her immunity to gender bias, attributing her success to an allegedly gender-blind approach to work (“I never thought of myself as a woman, I just did my job.”). She asserts that if women simply focused on performance rather than gender disparities, they too could thrive without encountering resistance, even boasting about her seamless juggling of motherhood alongside a demanding career, conveniently omitting her special arrangements for domestic support—stay-at-home husband, expensive nanny—from her narrative.

Her rhetoric implies that she is just that good, so any barriers holding back other women don’t apply to her.

Across the hotel ballroom, a palpable unease arises, particularly among the younger attendees. (“Doing all that sounds impossible.  Maybe she really is better than the rest of us.  Maybe I just don’t have what it takes.” Or even:  “My husband won’t stay home because he has his own career.  I don’t think I can afford daycare, never mind a nanny.")

But more informed individuals reject the speaker's narrative. These listeners become incensed by the speaker's dismissive tone—and her obvious detachment from reality.

Informed women know this speaker is just full of herself.

Hard data, available from multiple sources in nearly every nation in the world, have long since demonstrated the pervasive nature of discrimination against women in the workplace. The gender pay gap occurs at every income level. Studies that claim to debunk the gender pay gap merely manipulate data to obfuscate systemic inequality; they remove the very variables that reflect and perpetuate discrimination and then declare that there is no such thing as gender inequality. Those studies are dishonest attempts to delegitimize this important cause.

The gender pay gap has hardly budged in the last three decades and it is discernible across industries and occupations. No one is immune.

Ironically, the data shows that the biggest pay gaps are at the highest levels of income and that women's representation at the top levels of organization are clearly out of step with their qualifications, especially if your CEO is male and older. Indeed, the higher your level of education, the more likely it is that you have experienced discrimination, no matter your age. In sum, women at the top have not escaped discrimination, but usually are experiencing more of it.

At base, this arrogant speaker’s position is that sex discrimination isn’t real.  She would have you believe that sexism is just a cover story for mediocre women who want to project blame on men for their own inadequacies. Yet the statistics we now have in hand are so compelling that the chances any one woman has never experienced sex discrimination are vanishingly small. If you are familiar with the data, she sounds as foolish as she is smug.

So, it’s not that our self-important speaker has escaped sex discrimination because she was just that much better than other women.  It’s that she has been so full of herself she never saw what was happening to her.  The highest probability is that she wasn’t brilliant, she was clueless.

The repercussions of such rhetoric extend beyond disillusioning young women; it emboldens institutional complacency and undermines collective efforts to address gender disparities. It provides justification for gender bigots in organizations to avoid diversity programs or resist decisions that help or reward women. By championing individual exceptionalism over systemic reform, speakers like this foolish woman perpetuate a culture of silence, stifling vital conversations and impeding progress toward gender equality.

In essence, while the speaker's self-aggrandizing narrative may temporarily bolster her ego, it reinforces harmful stereotypes and obstructs meaningful change. Thus, it's not the luncheon speech alone that hinders progress, but the pervasive influence of this kind of rhetoric, which erodes collective resolve and perpetuates gender inequality.


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